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Medicine and Forgiveness: How we mistreat our ills

MH900390526My medicine cabinet contains something shocking–medicine. Despite the fact that millions of Americans consume pharmaceuticals worth billions of dollars, we have developed a strange cultural tendency to decry the use of medication as somehow morally inferior. After a lifetime among fellow Christians, I can honestly say believers often share the same aversion to medicine. We might even be worse than the general population in our attitude about the use of medicine for healing.

Recently I listened to a Catholic priest being interviewed on the radio about the many confessions he had heard during his lengthy career. The priest said that a number of Christians he met for confession could not accept forgiveness because they had tethered their sins to clinical maladies. For instance, if John Smith has obsessive compulsive disorder that he believes is somehow connected to the sins in his life, it will be almost impossible for Smith to accept that he has been forgiven. Tragic! Even more shocking was the priest’s revelation that the vast majority of believers with a psychological disorder refused to pursue treatment. He said only 2 out of 20 would ever follow-up on his suggestion that they needed professional clinical help that might include counseling and/or medication. Many of these folks were convinced that their suffering was related to sin rather than something clinical. They refused to get the help they desperately needed. They resigned themselves to the belief that suffering was part of God’s plan for their lives and it was just their cross to bear. To this I say bull$&!#.

Back in my day (stop rolling your eyes, millennials), the medical profession was beginning to explode with new drugs and ways of treating diseases. Many of those diseases had formerly meant an automatic death sentence for people. We called them miracle drugs and we viewed doctors and surgeons with awe. These days I know people who argue with their doctor about almost everything. I am not suggesting that we idolize fallible medical professionals. And certainly the pharmaceutical companies have made grave (no pun intended) errors. But should we default to stigmatizing all medicines and their use?

In Luke 10:30-35, we read the story of the Good Samaritan. Recall that the Samaritan bandaged the victim’s wounds, pouring on oil and wine.

In 1 Timothy 5:23, Paul tells some sick people in the church to stop drinking only water and start using a little wine for their stomach and frequent illnesses. Back then, wine was used like a medicine (today it seems to turn people into snobs). They didn’t have the water purification systems we have today. In essence, Paul was dispensing medical advice for their digestive health.

Here is my point: It is OK to take appropriate medicine for a legitimate injury or illness. We get no moral or heavenly kudos for going the natural route at the expense of our health. There is no glory in needless suffering. Of course it is best to eat right, exercise, and embrace healthy lifestyles. But using medicine does not make us worse Christians. At worst, denial about our ailments and refusing medicine can put us at risk of faulty thinking about sin, suffering, and forgiveness. God’s forgiveness does not require that we choose to suffer. Choosing to suffer needlessly is just obtuse, not noble.

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Stop Having Fun

MH900386362Christians get accused of trying to use the political process and laws to stop people from having fun and experiencing fulfilling lives. (Ironically, the political process is the definition of un-fun.) Many folks believe entertainment, fulfillment, jesting, and gaiety (just so there’s no jesting about gaiety) would mostly be eliminated from society if Christians had their way. The question Christians should ask is: Should we shove our values down the throats of adults who have little comprehension of all the spiritual and physical ramifications for immorality? Heck, I’m not certain most Christians understand all the ramifications. When it comes to sin, adults have freewill. We’ve had freewill since the Garden. (Of course some of the “fun” sins I’ve indulged as an adult fall into the category of childish . . . . which though ironic, won’t get me off the hook in God’s eyes.)

Some of the fun yet immoral things people enjoy clearly cause physical or psychological harm. The harmful effects of other fun activities prohibited in the Bible are not so clear and we take it on faith that God does not want people to indulge them because they harm us in some way. Granted, we have an obligation to prevent behavior that harms people and society, especially behavior that harms the most innocent and vulnerable among us. On some issues we need to take a hard stand. But again, we can only take it so far before freewill trumps our efforts to protect adults from harm.

Last year I got hooked on Duck Dynasty. It’s a TV show about a multi-generation family (the Robertson’s) who found financial success making duck calls for hunters. At first, the Robertson brothers, uncle, and father come across as a bit edgy with their long hair, beards, and Southern drawl. But as you watch more episodes, you become aware that these guys are just having a good time, despite conflicts and setbacks in life. The program shows how faith is a key component of their life.

Some Christians say that God doesn’t promise us happiness or fun times. I suppose there is fair amount of truth in that theological argument. On the other hand, I don’t recall God promising us nothing but suffering in this life. Sure, we will have problems, but we can often choose whether to have some fun along the way. The alternative is to become a dour bitter Christian who has no joy in life and takes delight in thwarting the joy and fun of others. Genuine Christians with a truly transformed heart don’t like to see people have fun in sinful ways because of the damage it causes. They love people so much that they hate to see them harmed.

Before you theologians point out that I don’t know the difference between joy and fun, let me just say that the two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the demonstration of the ability to have fun can be a great testimony of the presence of deep joy in a Christian’s life. So don’t feel guilty about having fun. It is possible to have a great deal of fun without slipping into debauchery.

The Blessed Realm of Suffering and Satisfaction

Tom (not his real name) and I were having tea yesterday (don’t judge us for doing a girly thing). Both in our fifties, we feel the onset of age-related aches and pains. And yet we were both laughing at the insidious assault of time against our bodies and minds. Tom said with a chuckle, “I can see the inevitability ahead.” Nevertheless, even with a serious medical condition that has impacted his lifestyle, Tom seems to age with dignity.

Growing old gracefully doesn’t necessarily happen naturally. It’s like any endeavor for improvement; it requires thoughtfulness, effort, and suffering. Jim Collins, author of Great by Choice, said: “. . . all writers seem to agree on one point: writing well is desperately difficult, and it never gets easier. It’s like running: if you push your limits, you can become a faster runner, but you will always suffer.” Suffering is a necessary ingredient for anything worthwhile.

Aging can make us cranky, bitter, angry, sharp-tongued, and a host of other unpleasant things. It doesn’t have to be that way. If we ask for God’s help, I believe we can push through to that place of satisfaction that comes through suffering. We can become gentle, funny, and wise even as our body aches and our hair turns gray. Without God’s help, we will become whatever the world makes us.

Garbage

MC900040383It was garbage day and my street was lined with garbage cans awaiting the high priest of refuse and his noisy fume-belching chariot. You know what I mean: that monstrous contraption on wheels that sets every hound in the neighborhood to caterwauling precisely at 6 am. Anyhow, while walking I noticed that a few of my neighbors have very small garbage cans. The small garbage cans are little larger than the average trash can under the sink in most homes. (Who lives in those homes with such small garbage cans . . . hobbits?)

It got me thinking as I walked past the homes in my neighborhood: What kind of garbage is inside these homes? Is there infidelity, rage, abuse, violence, addiction, sickness, avarice, bankruptcy, sloth, selfishness, self-loathing, depression, worry . . . hoarding? Of course there is! This is the human condition. Each home contains stories and not all those stories are pleasant. There are even homes where everything is going well and the occupants perceive no need for God, and yet they are spiritually dead.

Should I go from door to door and share how God can change bad stories into good stories? The problem is that our neighborhood gets a lot of peddlers going door to door selling all sorts of goods and services. It gets tiresome. Because of this, I’m not sure going door to door would be effective in my neighborhood. So how do we, the church, reach people holed up in their homes?

Thankfully, most churches have a variety of outreach techniques to reach people in the local community. Besides, people are more likely to attend church if someone they know invites them. What I’d like to address here is what people can expect after converting to Christianity. Here goes: You will still have problems. (Yeah, I’m a lousy salesperson.)Sure, some folks experience a rapid improvement in their circumstances post-conversion. Those are exceptions, not the norm. Ask any Christian and she will tell you that problems don’t automatically go away just because you have Christ. At times they might even intensify. All I can say is that without Christ, the Holy Spirit, a healthy church, a few close Christian friends, prayer and the Bible, my house (my life) would likely overflow with garbage. Christ is the high priest who comes around and collects the spiritual and emotional garbage in my life and takes it far away. (Hey, that was a clever metaphor.) With Christ we get access to wisdom that can help us deal with our garbage. We don’t always make the best use of that wisdom, but at least we have access.